NORMAL, Ill. (iupuijags.com) – A gut-wrenching way to see a strong performance go for naught, the IUPUI softball team (23-30) saw a two-run lead slip away in the final inning, as the Illinois State Redbirds (31-21) snagged a win in the opening round of the National Invitational Softball Championship (NISC) Tuesday (May 16). The Jags will face Michigan State May 17 at 2 p.m. EST.
Nickole Finch was solid for six innings, eventually seeing things slip away late. The junior pitched 6.2 innings while giving up just four earned runs on five hits while striking out two. The lefty got into trouble on eight walks, including three in the seventh. Maggie Armstrong led the offense with a 3-for-3 day, clubbing two doubles and picking up an RBI. Taylor Chitwood and Roni Patterson both had singles, as Delaney Thompson and Mandy Dallas each went 1-for-3 with an RBI.
The Jags got off to a quick start thanks largely to a mistake by the third baseman for Illinois State. With two runners on, a weak ground ball to the hot corner led to a fielder's choice out, but an errant throw across the diamond got away from the first baseman, allowing a run to come all the way home and another to advance to third. Armstrong then came up and smacked a ball into the left field corner, scoring a second run as the Jags built a 2-0 lead. Thompson took advantage of the runner in scoring position, dumping a ball into left field with two outs to score Armstrong.
The Redbirds were quick to respond in the bottom half, as a walk and a triple scored the first run for the home team. After a ground out, a single scored the next run from third, cutting the Jags' lead to one. A pop out would end the frame. Both teams went scoreless over the next two innings, as the Jags were sit down on a pair of one-two-three innings.
IUPUI finally broke through again in the fourth, as a mildly comical double by Armstrong led off the frame. After Delainey Turner pinch ran, a ground out moved the runner to third, followed by an RBI single through the middle by Dallas, pushing the score to 4-2. Finch was able to return to the circle in the bottom half and get a one-two-three inning on a pair of stellar defensive plays by Good and Loge.
Trouble began to brew in the bottom of the fifth inning, as a walk and a single put two runners on with only one away for Illinois State. Finch induced a ground ball to second base, leading to a fielder's choice on the runner headed to second. With runners on the corners, a four-pitch walk loaded the bases, setting up a clutch moment against the eighth batter in the lineup. Finch was able to induce another right-side ground ball that was bobbled for a moment, but eventually led to an out at first to end the threat. She'd also tally a three up, three down bottom of the sixth, sending IUPUI to the seventh with a chance to close it.
Able to get two runners on in the top half on an error and a single from Chitwood, the Jags were kept off the scoreboard and forced into the bottom half trying to preserve the lead. With the two, three and four spots due up, the Redbirds belted a leadoff single that slipped just under the glove of Thompson at shortstop. A full-count walk was issued to the next batter, giving the 'Birds runners at first and second with no outs. After a pinch runner, the cleanup hitter was hit by a pitch, loading the bases. A dropped line drive in center field gave the Redbirds a run, followed by Finch inducing a pop up to get the first out. A four-pitch walk followed, as Illinois State tied the game at four runs each. A diving play by Alyssa Matson in right field wasn't enough, as the game winning run came across to score on the sac fly, sending the Redbirds to a win.
The Jags will face the Michigan State Spartans in the loser's bracket, with the losing team being eliminated from the tournament. If the Jags win that game, they'll play the loser of Illinois State and Murray State later in the day.
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